By Dr. Wayne L. Westcott
If you, like 25% of adults in the U.S., are coping with arthritis or related joint issues, in your hands and/or feet (especially during the winter months), you may find that the following exercise recommendations result in renewed functional abilities and reduced discomfort in these important joints.
Although we normally present exercises for the major muscle groups of the legs, midsection and upper body, many older adults experience problems and pain in their feet and hands. To address these important body parts, you simply need 2 tennis balls. Let’s begin with the feet, which can experience considerable discomfort (particularly if you have plantar fasciitis or similar foot structure symptoms). A basic exercise is the tennis ball foot roll, in which you roll the tennis ball under your bare foot. Do one foot at a time and hold onto a chair as you perform this exercise. Begin with the tennis ball under your toes, then slowly move your foot over the ball until it is under your heel. Slowly roll the ball back to your toes, and repeat this procedure 15 times. Use a light foot pressure for the first few 5 few foot rolls, apply a moderate foot pressure on the next 5 foot rolls, and exert a heavy (but not painful) foot pressure for the last 5 foot rolls. If you would like an additional exercise for your feet, crumple a piece of paper and place it on the floor. With your bare foot, pick the crumpled paper off the floor by grasping it under your toes. Do this procedure 5 times with each foot.
Try this gentle massage to relax and stretch the arch areas of your foot. Remove your shoes and socks and find a place where you can sit comfortably. Using your thumbs in an up-and-down motion, gently massage the arch of your foot 2-3 minutes prior to going to bed, while watching TV, or listening to your favorite tunes.
To strengthen your hands (fingers, thumbs, and forearms) stand tall with a tennis ball in both hands, arms extended downwards. Squeeze the tennis balls 15 times in a slow and controlled manner. Like the foot roll, use a light force on the first 5 squeezes, a moderate force on the next 5 squeezes and a high force on the final 5 repetitions. Place the tennis balls on a table and relax (shake out) your forearms for 30 seconds. Now hold the tennis balls in both hands with your elbows flexed at a right angle (forearms parallel to the floor). Again, squeeze the tennis balls 8 times in a slow and controlled manner, progressing from light, to moderate, to high force repetitions. Place the tennis balls on a table and relax (shake out) your forearms for 30 seconds. Next, hold the tennis balls in both hands with your arms straight out to your sides in a T-position. Squeeze the tennis balls 15 times, again applying progressively greater force with each repetition. Place the tennis balls on a table and relax (shake out) your forearms for 30 seconds. You should find this a very effective exercise for strengthening your forearm muscles and increasing your gripping ability.
To stretch your hands and your forearms after squeezing the ball, (1) simply open the palms of your hands, then separate and extend your fingers. Hold this stretch for 5 seconds, and repeat. (2) Now is a good time to stretch your forearms. Sit upright with your back against the chair. Straighten your arms and place your palms down on the sides of the chair with fingers facing the front of the chair. Hold this stretch for 5 seconds, and repeat.
You may perform the tennis ball exercises every other day, perhaps doing the foot and hand exercises on alternate days. Although you will spend little time doing the tennis ball exercises, they may make a big difference in how these most used body parts feel and function.